Head West To Lake Huron And Lake St Clair In Ontario
We had an amazing trip when we headed west from Toronto to Lake Huron and Lake St Clair in Ontario. Lake St Clair and the St Clair River are part of the Great Lakes system that connects Lake Erie to Lake Huron. Lake St Clair is sometimes referred to as the 6th Great Lake. On one side is the Canadian province of Ontario and on the other side the USA state of Michigan.
We enjoyed road trips in Ontario this summer of Covid-19 as we explored locally. Our trips have taken us along the shore of Lake Erie and through the Kawartha Lakes area. We got our first glimpse of Lake Huron on a road trip to Owen Sound.
On this trip we enjoyed scenic drives along Lake St Clair, the St Clair River and the coast of Lake Huron. There was lots to see on the waterfront. And we got the most amazing sunset show! Along the way there were educational stops too.
This was the first time in a long time that we stayed overnight away from home. Our stops during the day and our hotel visit all provided a very safe experience in the middle of the pandemic.
Road Trips In Harvest Season
It was always great to get out for a road trip in Ontario. In this time of Covid-19 we found the roads and small towns much more deserted than we expected. Some beaches and restaurants were busier. But our drives often felt like we were in some kind of post-apocalyptic scene.
Everywhere we looked we found fields lush and ready for picking. Massive greenhouses amazed us. And wind turbines spun in the air. We were surprised at how few people we saw at work in the fields. Although we occasionally encountered farm vehicles full of produce. So we knew someone picked at some time in the day.
In harvest season, we found produce stands all along the side of the road. It was always great to get freshly picked fruit and veggies. The watermelon we bought was the sweetest we have eaten!
On a trip west to Lake Huron and Lake St Clair in Ontario, we passed through a lot of farmland!
Scenic Drive In Lakeshore On Lake St Clair
On the way west to Lake Huron and Lake St Clair in Ontario, we took the fast route along the major highway (Hwy 401). We exited before we reached Windsor and the bridges to the USA. Heading north towards Lake St Clair, we travelled along the water through the series of small areas that made up the town of Lakeshore.
Whenever we could, we found the local roads that ran right at the water. At one point we travelled along a stretch called the Tecumseh Parkway. This route traced the path of the Battle of the Thames. Tecumseh was one of the most famous First Nation’s leaders in Canada. And a major battle was fought in this area.
Several times we hit a dead end and went back up to the main road before we headed back to the water. We looked for public beach access points. But if they existed, they were not well marked. Instead we found small parkettes with lovely green spaces and a view of the water.
We looked longingly at the houses with waterfront views. Watercraft sat ready for some fun. The Covid-19 pandemic certainly made us long to be out of our condo. The houses ranged from large mansions to smaller cottage-like properties. The ones marked “For Sale” piqued our curiosity. We stopped often as we drove through Lakeshore.
Stretching Our Legs In Lakeshore
When we entered the Belle River area, we again headed to the water. And were delighted when we saw a large sand beach and pier. The beach was closed and only the seagulls enjoyed the wide open stretches of sand.
We stopped at the A&J Snack Shack. There were a few people at the outdoor picnic tables and we chatted for awhile with the owner. The Covid-19 pandemic made it hard for small businesses like this to stay afloat.
We satisfied David’s craving for homemade french fries and then walked along the pier. It gave us a great view out over Lake St Clair. A relaxing stop with wide open spaces for us to enjoy.
Our next stop was at Lighthouse Cove. We found the Thames River launch area and checked out the Thame River Lighthouse from several different angles. We later learned that this was the 3rd oldest lighthouse in Canada.
As we wandered along the small roads, it was clear that flood insurance would be critical if we bought in this area. In many places we saw piles of sandbags. The water lapped up to street level. Signs warned of flooding and closed roads.
There were so many great stops in the communities of Lakeshore on Lake St Clair. This was the spot we returned to for an amazing sunset show.
Another Scenic Drive Along The St Clair River
We enjoyed another scenic drive along the St Clair River Parkway between Chatham and Sarnia. We got our first view of the very blue water that Lake Huron was known for. There were boat docks and decks along the river edge that belonged to the houses across the street.
Along the route we saw many small parks. We made several short stops. But stayed longer as we strolled around Brander Park. We were amazed at the wide open spaces with no people. The picnic area was closed for Covid-19. Even the fun children’s area was largely deserted. Except for one big kid of course!
Along the river there were carved out areas for swimming access. The wind whipped the waves over the banks. David bravely stood in the cold water. But that was as far as we got.
It was such an idyllic drive along the shore of the St Clair River. We saw the houses in the U.S.A. across the waterway. When we reached the end of the Parkway, it was quite a rude surprise when we saw the green space replaced with refineries and large petroleum plants. We reached Lake Huron and it was obvious that plants like this were placed on the Great Lakes for strategic purposes.
On a visit to Lake Huron and Lake St Clair in Ontario we enjoyed our drive along the St Clair River Parkway.
Stop In Sarnia For Lunch
We entered Sarnia from the south and made a short stop at Centennial Park on the water. From there we stopped briefly at the port. We saw more of the big tankers we previously observed on Lake Huron during our visit to Owen Sound. More signs that we were on a commercial lake.
There were lots of options for food in Sarnia. But we really wanted a spot with a view. The Alternate Grounds Dockside Restaurant had a large patio area. And met our desired level of safety for Covid-19 processes.
The menu had lots to choose from. So we enjoyed a great healthy lunch. Even if I didn’t resist the fruit wheat beer. And we got the amazing water views we craved.
It was a good thing we ate healthy because we found the absolute best gelato at the Ice Creamery. The owner recited the long list of homemade choices. David had the yummy peanut butter chocolate. And I had the tastiest salted caramel!
After our food break, we went in search of a beach on Lake Huron.
Our Beach Stop At Canatara Beach
We made our way towards Point Edward and drove around the grounds and small lake at Canatara Beach. There were large green spaces but we were after a beach. Canatara Beach was only one of 26 beaches in Canada with Blue Flag status. This was reserved for areas with a strict commitment to water and safety criteria.
We parked and over the sand dune got our first view of the blue waters of Lake Huron. The water went as far as we could see. We heard lots of laughter coming over the sand dune. And were a bit confused when we saw a sign that said “Closed Until Further Notice”. But when we got closer we saw that only the stairs down to the beach were closed.
There were Covid-19 signs about physical distancing. And when we looked at the beach we were happy it was open and people were responsible. The wind was still very high. But that never stopped the children as they played in the waves.
We enjoyed the breeze and views over Lake Huron. It was absolutely the sight we travelled to Lake Huron and Lake St Clair in Ontario for.
Heading To Grand Bend On Lake Huron
Our drive took us along the shore of Lake Huron. We passed the Pinery Provincial Park. We wanted to stop but it was getting late. And we were not sure what things closed early in these Covid-19 days.
The sign for Grand Bend featured a lighthouse. When we wandered along the roads by the water we found a lighthouse at the marina that may have been the model for the sign.
We kept driving along the shore until we found the street that took us to the main beach in Grand Bend. As we drove along the street, we knew we were headed to a beach. The street was jam-packed with people. Beach gear shops, ice cream stands and souvenir shops were on both sides of the street. We had no intention of stopping here!
The Busy Main Beach At Grand Bend
We pulled up at the turning circle by the beach and then found a parking spot. It was after 4pm and people had started to leave. After we climbed the tower, we got our first real look at the beach. In one direction it appeared very busy. But in the other direction people seemed more spread out.
There was a paved walkway at the edge of the beach that took us to the pier. We enjoyed some time as we watched the waves crash up on the shore.
Along the beach we were delighted when we found colourful murals. These depicted such iconic beach and Canadiana scenes. A great final treat before we departed for the day.
Grand Bend was the perfect spot to end our trip west to Lake Huron and Lake St Clair in Ontario. We chose a route home that meandered cross-country. We were not yet ready to return to the city.
Bike Paths Around Lake Huron And Lake St Clair In Ontario
When we headed west to Lake Huron and Lake St Clair in Ontario, we found so many great biking paths. It made us wish we travelled with our eBikes. In Lakeshore the Great Lakes Waterfront Trail followed along the shores of Lake St Clair. In this area, rivers often sent us back to the main road to cross. However, there were often foot bridges that the bikes used to cross and keep going. In Grand Bend, we saw a sign that said it was the terminus of this route.
Along the St Clair Parkway we found the St Clair River Trail. This was a 35 km multi-use trail. The St Clair River Run happened annually in normal years. Along the trail we found interesting plaques for people who enjoyed this path.
In Sarnia we saw the signs for the Bluewater Trails. Part of the path ran along old railway line. We pulled over and looked at the path and the trail map.
There were so many different bike trails when we went west to Lake Huron and Lake St Clair in Ontario. We were sad we left our bikes at home. But we now have some great destinations for a return visit.
The Best Sunset Viewing Spot
We checked out the geography and figured there was a great sunset view over the water from the east shore of Lake St Clair. So we headed from our overnight stay in Chatham to Lighthouse Cove. And found the perfect spot.
The ramp by the Thames River Lighthouse had an open water view. But the angle was not quite right.
We drove around and checked out several other viewpoints. Unfortunately, we found no public beach access points. And even the roads were marked for no parking. There was an open park area. But the sign marked it clearly for local use only.
As we checked out the view, we started a conversation with the people in the house beside the park. They immediately said it would be perfectly ok for us to watch the sunset from there. Little did they know how long we would stay!
Perfect Sunsets On Huron And Lake St Clair In Ontario
As the sun set, we got a great view as the orange ball sank into the water. The skies turned shades of orange.
We hoped that more colours would show up after the sun was down. And just as we were ready to leave, we got our wish. A whole rainbow of colours lit up in the sky.
We finally moved the car to another part of the shore. The colours continued to deepen. And we caught the greatest reflections in the puddles.
Ultimately it was time to move on. But we were mesmerized by the continued light show in the sky. Even the view over the fields and wind turbines caused us to stop and watch.
Grand Bend on Lake Huron was on the list for some of the best sunsets in Ontario. When we visited Grand Bend the next day, we were not even tempted to stay for sunset. How could we beat the sunset show we got? Head west to Lake Huron and Lake St Clair in Ontario for some of the very best sunsets on the water!
History Lessons Along The Underground Railway
As we travelled around the Chatham-Kent area, we kept seeing these strange signs with a star and footprints. At first we thought they led to a star gazing spot. But then we saw one sign with wording that said “Underground Railroad”.
The Underground Railroad was used to help slaves flee to Canada. It was operated by a network of free blacks and white sympathizers. About 30,000 slaves fled to Canada. There are several places in Ontario as memorials to key stops on the Underground Railway.
We followed signs that led to Uncle Tom’s Cabin. We crossed an old unused railway line. And wondered about the history of this rail line.
The book Uncle Tom’s Cabin was inspired by abolitionist Josiah Henson and the cabin was inspired by a home in Ontario. Following the sign we found a museum and what looked like that cabin. Henson escaped to Canada from Kentucky and helped settle other fugitives at his New Dawn Settlement.
The museum was not open. But when we wandered around we found the British American Cemetery and the Hensen family cemetery.
On a trip travelling west to Lake Huron and Lake St Clair in Ontario we found historic sites to explore.
Planning An Overnight Stay During The Covid-19 Pandemic
Different regions in Ontario opened at varying speeds during the Covid-19 pandemic. This western region around Windsor was always the last to move to the next stage. So we were a bit nervous when we planned to head this way. But we need not have worried!
We found so many open spaces on our trip. There were few people around when we stopped. The weather was great. So we found lots of lovely patio options for food. Most every place took the right precautions that made us feel safe. In some areas the beaches were still closed. Some beaches were quiet and well distanced. At others we just stayed away from the crowds.
It was hard to plan a trip west to Lake Huron and Lake St Clair in Ontario as a day trip. In 2019 we were away overnight for more than 175 nights! We started 2020 with 70 nights away on our South America cruise. But after we were stranded on our South America cruise when Covid-19 hit, we planned only day trips once things opened up at home a little.
So this was the first time we planned an overnight stay. We wanted a larger chain hotel with some safety standards. The Holiday Inn Express and Suites in Chatham was central to the area we wanted to explore. And we always enjoyed the consistency of the service offering at this chain.
A Safe Overnight Experience
The hotel had established Covid-19 processes in place and signs were prominently displayed. The check-in counter was behind a plexiglass screen and checkout was electronic. Each pen was sterilized after use. We were on the 5th of 7 floors and only once did we pass on an elevator because it already had people in it.
Our IHG Rewards status got us a large suite with two rooms and a small kitchenette. There was a “Clean Promise” card in the room that addressed the new cleaning standards. Even with this, we wiped down all high touch areas before we settled in. The linen looked white and clean. But we still used our own pillow cases and top sheet. And we were happy the air conditioner vented to the outside so we did not think about circulating air.
The hotel even offered a hot breakfast. The breakfast was served by staff who were masked and gloved. Coffee was available from the front desk. Many of the tables were blocked off. Although we had the room almost to ourselves for breakfast.
Every road trip we took in the summer of Covid-19 caused some level of trepidation. We were always prepared to return home if we did not feel safe. But our overnight stay in Chatham worked out well. We travelled about 1,000 km (~ 600 miles) over two days. Our overnight stay ensured we had lots of time as we explored the area around Lake Huron and Lake St Clair in Ontario.
Heading West To Lake Huron And Lake St Clair In Ontario
We had a wonderful two days when we headed west to Lake Huron and Lake St Clair in Ontario. It was great to meander along the shore and see the waterfront views. Along the way we saw some interesting historical spots. There were open green spaces everywhere we stopped. And several beach stops gave us a view of the crashing waves.
On another day trip, we explored more of Lake Huron and Georgian Bay. It gave us yet another perspective on the Great Lakes in Canada.
It was great to explore Ontario in the summer of Covid-19. We were delighted that it felt safe to travel short distances from home. And we were happy our first overnight trip turned out so well.
We saw the first small signs that the leaves would soon start to change colour. We were excited for our coming road trips for the fall colours.
Have you travelled west to Lake Huron And Lake St Clair In Ontario? What scenic spots should we see on our next visit?
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